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Independent video, film artists in Canada get a massive new online portal

28 July 2017 - 9:46am
Arts & CultureTechnology

A trip to the optometrist can be inspiring for Cecilia Araneda, the executive director of VUCAVU, a newly launched online portal featuring 45 years of independent video and film from Canadian artists.

"My optometrist will say to me 'I saw this film at the Cinematheque but where can I find more like it?' And I realize these films have a bigger fan base than I think!," Araneda told rabble.ca in an interview.

VUCAVU is the brainchild of a group of independent video and film distributors from across Canada, concerned by the tidal wave of digitization and social media that has served to push lesser-known artists to the edges of distribution.

"With digital right now it's as if we are reverting back to the '80s -- I'm thinking of music where there is a focus on mega stars, and that is who is being marketed," noted Araneda. "The idea of the internet was that everything would be made visible but instead, a lot is invisible -- it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack."

At the moment, VUCAVU has about 5,000 videos digitized with a total of 14,000 to be completed by mid-2018. They include such venerable artists as Michael Snow and Guy Maddin.

The kernel for the idea was sparked by an early 2000s Canada Council report concerning distribution models. Since then, various distribution agencies such as the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre in Toronto, the Winnipeg Film Group, Video Pool in Montreal and a few others have tried to launch the portal.

In 2013, they got a $1.5-million startup grant to get it going. By late 2018, Araneda expects VUCAVU to be launched fully along with a more public campaign.

"The idea is along the model of Netflix," said Araneda. "Most people want to stream, downloading is dead."

Netflix as a model

VUCAVU is primarily for curators around the world interested in programming Canadian videos and films and these users, who have to present their credentials, would be provided free access.

On another level is the public. So, VUCAVU would allow someone to pay $1 to $5 (access and prices are set by the artist) to screen a work for a period of time, say 72 hours. 

Lastly, VUCAVU would also become a subscription service where institutions can pay monthly for access.

"We're trying to have a different model so that these artists can find wider audiences," she said. "We are not competing with the National Film Board (NFB) because they are very different -- they have certain types of films and they market them very well. Of course, they are also fully funded by the government."

Araneda says the distributors are keen to "professionalize" the work of video and film artists.

"We are creating a new consciousness of Canadian culture and bringing it out to light. The problem of digital tools is that it's gotten so far ahead in the last 10 years but opportunities in marketing and distribution are static -- i.e. film festivals, which don't pay usually."

Artists have been paid for the videos that are streaming for "free" but there are also many videos that are not available to the public depending on what the artist wants. VUCAVU is pretty much a virtual space that parallels artist-run centres.

"Artists get money for production but rarely for presentation," emphasizes Araneda. "VUCAVU is about the artist -- they retain the copyright and control the relationship."

Araneda, a filmmaker herself who is based mostly out of Winnipeg, says she's had the privilege and pleasure of seeing much of the video works that are coming in.

"I see how video art has come out of a politicized space -- a reaction to white, male-dominated film culture," she said. "It opened up Queer culture, Indigenous issues … educating us about stories that the mainstream media isn't presenting to us. It's provocative."

'Agent of reconciliation'

Araneda is particularly touched by the work of Winnipeg's Jackie Traverse.

"She works in animation and covers her personal experience with The Sixties Scoop and this is in no way a POV documentary. It's about recovering, alcoholism."

The Sixties Scoops refers to a time between the 1960s and the 1980s when thousands of Aboriginal children were taken from their homes by child-welfare workers and placed with mostly non-Aboriginal families.

For Araneda, bringing lesser-known artists and their works out to a bigger audience has taken on a personal meaning.

"I see VUCAVU as a meaningful agent of reconciliation [with Indigenous peoples]," she said. "It's important right now in Canada -- so we can move beyond ignorance."

She harkens back to her roots -- in Chile. Her mother was a political refugee, escaping the violent dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. They arrived in Canada when she was a child. Eventually, the family settled in northern Manitoba, where Araneda grew up among Indigenous people.

"I was welcomed as a refugee into the community," she recalled. "Living in The Pas was both great and awful…I think of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and then my life, which was opposite of that."

Araneda deems it a mission to bring out more Indigenous artists into the world so their stories, their lived experiences, can be seen and heard.

"It's so important to recover what has been missed."

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

Video stills from film "Two Scoops" by Jackie Traverse

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Canadian filmindependent filmCanadian artistsdigital artdigitizationfilm distributionvideo artJune ChuaJuly 28, 2017Instagram project chronicles search for missing and murdered Indigenous womenThere's another story to the tragic saga of missing and murdered Indigenous women and it's coming to light through an Instagram project created by the National Film Board.'Rise' series documents frontlines of Indigenous movementsRise is a fantastic new series that covers a resurgent Indigenous cultural urgency, filmed by Toronto's Christopher Yapp and executive directed by award-winning filmmaker Michelle Latimer.Mad Room: Black artist lays bare struggle with depression, anxietyTangled Art Gallery in Toronto is opening its first-ever installation, featuring the work of local artist Gloria Swain and focusing on her experience as a Black woman in the mental health system.

Reflections on Radical Handmaid protests in Canada

27 July 2017 - 9:59am
July 27, 2017The Radical Handmaids' tale of reproductive justice began on Parliament HillOn April 25, 2012, a small grassroots group of (mostly) young women donned outfits inspired by Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, and went to Parliament Hill for a little "cosplay."

Former Alberta PC leadership candidate Richard Starke to UCP Mothership: A PC I was elected and a PC I'll remain!

27 July 2017 - 12:52am
David J. Climenhaga

Richard Starke, it turns out, is not just a nice guy, he's a principled one as well.

This is not to say, I should hasten to add, that I ever thought Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, former Tory cabinet minister and candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, was anything but principled.

Still, now that Jason Kenney's double reverse hostile takeover of the PC Party by the Wildrose Party last spring, and then of the Wildrose Party by the PCs last Saturday, is all but complete, one imagines MLAs from the two conservative parties are under enormous pressure to knuckle under and behave themselves. Good behaviour, of course, being in this case defined by Kenney and his minions.

Moreover, despite his obvious decency, Starke is just as clearly not an unambitious man, as the retired Prairie veterinarian's willingness last winter and spring to run for the PC leadership against Kenney, a former Harper government cabinet minister who is not an MLA, made clear.

So if there was an opportunity for a future high-profile cabinet portfolio, I had thought Starke was likely to stick around to see what would happen.

But Starke didn't stick around. He said yesterday he has told the Speaker of the Legislature he intends to continue to sit as a Progressive Conservative MLA as long as there's a Progressive Conservative Party. If it ceases to exist, he'll sit as an Independent.

That Starke only waited until the first available business day to tell us about his plans paints a vivid picture of the real state of conservative merger movement after what Postmedia's Don Braid, apparently letting his enthusiasm get the better of him, hailed as "a massive consensus." Braid's headline writer did him one better, accurately reflecting the tone of the column: The decision, the headline hyperventilated, was "a massive and historic vote for conservative unity in Alberta."

It wasn't just Braid. All day Sunday and Monday supporters of the "United Conservative Party" merger and their media auxiliary were crowing about the effect the combined new UCP caucus would have on the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley. (Not much, actually, seeing as the electoral math of a majority government won't change at all.)

The 22 Wildrose MLAs plus the seven PCs would add up to 29, we were repeatedly reminded. Well, make that 28, now that Starke has decided to bail out.

Monday morning, he issued the following statement his Facebook page, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

"After much consideration, I have decided that I will not join the United Conservative Party Caucus," Starke wrote.

"When I made the decision to seek elected office in 2011, I promised the constituents of Vermilion-Lloydminster that I would hold to values and principles consistent with Progressive Conservatism -- the values espoused by Peter Lougheed that first drew me to the Progressive Conservative party when I was in my teens.

"In both 2012 and 2015 I was nominated by the Vermilion-Lloydminster Progressive Conservative Association as their candidate, and elected by the people of Vermilion-Lloydminster as a Progressive Conservative MLA.

"At the conclusion of the PC Leadership campaign I was assured that my voice and those of the people who supported me would be welcomed by the new leadership. I took that assurance in good faith. My experience, and that of many like-minded party members who have left or been driven from the party, is that our views are not welcome, and that the values and principles we believe in will not be part of the new party going forward." (Emphasis added.)

"I have no way of knowing whether the leadership and policies of the new party will align with the values and principles I ran and was elected on. Without certainty in that knowledge I cannot, in good conscience, sit as a member of that party.

"I have informed the Speaker and the Legislative Assembly Office of my intentions. My first responsibility remains unchanged -- to represent the people of Vermilion-Lloydminster with the commitment and integrity they deserve." He concluded: "I am honoured to continue this endeavour."

For this, you can count on it, Starke will be viciously excoriated by Kenney’s followers for "disloyalty" to the conservative movement -- although what he has decided to do, arguably, demonstrates the opposite.

UCP supporters may also say that one MLA is just one MLA, which is true enough. Surely, though, it is a symptom of the strains below the surface in the post-progressive era of Alberta conservatism that a respected MLA and former cabinet member like Starke would walk away from the party at this hour.

He elaborated a little on his reasons to the CBC, citing Kenney's hostility to gay-straight alliances in schools, his refusal to take part in the Edmonton Pride Parade, and statements on social media from PC Party President Len Thom that compared the province's social studies curriculum to Hitler Youth indoctrination.

"As a veterinarian, at some point if there are so many clinical signs, you have to make a diagnosis," Starke observed bluntly.

Presumably all this means the PCs under Kenney wouldn't have chosen Starke as interim UCP leader in any circumstances, but they did (as suggested here they might) choose Nathan Cooper, MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills and a former Wildrose staffer, for the job. Alas, Dr. Starke might have added Mr. Cooper's past role as spokesperson for a social conservative group opposed to what it called the "homosexual agenda" to his list of concerns.

Now, UCP supporters may argue that a leadership race is yet to take place, and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who lately has been trying to define himself as the candidate of the party's progressives, will be running in it, so nothing is decided. You can believe that if you wish. But is said here Mr. Jean is no match for the Kenney juggernaut, which will crush him this fall just as it crushed Starke, Stephen Khan and Sandra Jansen last spring.

Premier Notley is another matter, of course, and while it is considered heresy in conservative and journalistic circles in Alberta to say so just now, a conservative party led by the baggage-laden Kenney and abandoned by respected Tories like Starke is not a slam dunk to defeat Notley and her New Democrats.

As the determinedly right-wing Kelly McParland of the National Post, of all people, admitted, "it's no given that Alberta's United Conservatives will manage to reclaim all the best offices at the legislature in Edmonton come 2019."

McParland's reasoning is the usual conservative elitist pishposh about how voters are so dumb they can be "bought with their own money." They're not, of course.

But they might -- just might -- ignore the PACed up big-money guys now dancing the Frankenparty fandango and recognize they're getting pretty good government in very difficult circumstances from Premier Notley and her disciplined NDP caucus.

McParland moans: "What if Notley beats the united Tories anyway?" He calls this possibility "scary." In light of what the UCP seems to represent, many Albertans may be starting to see this differently. Perhaps Starke is one of them.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Climate activism and ecosocialism: What kind of movement do we need?

26 July 2017 - 9:12pm
Brad Hornick

In Militant Particularism and Global Ambition: The Conceptual Politics of Place, Space, and Environment in the Work of Raymond Williams, David Harvey discusses the challenges presented by moving from place out across time. In the midst of his involvement in a participatory research project within a high-stakes local struggle against the closure of an automotive plant, he was accused of being a "free-floating Marxist intellectual," an outsider, and he was given the "evil eye" and asked to explain "where his loyalties lay." This is in an environment where people were losing jobs, and families and communities were being destroyed. Harvey takes the accusation to heart and proceeds to explore the alienation inherent in the intellectual's role and the responsibility of abstracting concepts from the lived experiences of local activism.

Harvey approaches this research with an eye to understanding the politics of community and "broader social forces" as a "parallel force to the politics of the workplace" in a context where working-class solidarities at the particular worksite were diminishing. But Harvey is reproached by his co-researchers for his allegiance to methodological distance and his perceived shift to "reactionary intellectualism" in his contextualizing the passion of struggle within the closure of political categories. In negotiating a broadening of the conceptual space of interpretation, he is "disloyal" to local union and community activism -- the active, vivid, and unique lived experience of struggles for socialism in his midst.

His preoccupation with larger theoretical and strategic concerns potentially undermines the "structures of feeling" that embolden the activists involved in the immediate struggle. His motivation comes from the desire to positively influence local militancy but also to extend its program toward broader socialist aims, to "break out of its local bonds and become a viable alternative to capitalism as a working mode of production and social relations." But what right does Harvey have to intervene and impose layers of "scientific" strategy to divert the energies of a group of people in a particular place toward a more universalist political project? He asks:

"What might it mean to be loyal to abstractions rather than to actual people? ... What is it that constitutes a privileged claim to knowledge, and how can we judge, understand, adjudicate, and perhaps negotiate different knowledges constructed at very different levels of abstraction under radically different material conditions?"

Harvey confronts a paradox: In order to understand and contribute to the militant particularism of local struggles and not become a "spectator" abstracted from the local situation, he needs to immerse himself in and identify with that struggle. In order to accurately account for scientific and analytical causalities and meaningfully appraise particularism and become strategic, he needs to maintain distance from the struggle. One threatens loss of subjectivity from approaching the object (embodiment), the other from receding (disembodiment).

Naomi Klein, John Bellamy Foster, Richard Smith

Harvey's idea is that a militant project begins in a place, and if it maintains its energy and gets properly strategic over time, it will translate into a more consequential movement. An "intellectual" parachuted into the midst of an incipient militant particularism would betray a sense of entitlement, privilege, and potentially reactionary energy by saying, "What you're doing is wrong." Rather, "traditional intellectuals" (working within studied social scientific rules) might more usefully ask, "How can we contextualize what is happening in relation to larger issues?" This would occur in discussion and solidarity with what Gramsci calls "organic intellectuals," individuals usually within subaltern groups working within grassroots language and practices.

In recent debates within the ecosocialist community, Richard Smith and John Bellamy Foster discuss similar themes of moving from place out across time. For ecosocialists, capitalism and the Anthropocene are the global signifiers upon which all worker and environmental movements must focus with urgency. The fate of humanity in the short term literally rests upon this universalist pursuit. Ecological alternatives are not possible within the framework of capitalism, so socialist demands must be articulated alongside transitional concrete ecological demands and reforms. In recent posts to climateandcapitalism.com, Smith and Foster (2017) brew over the subject of Naomi Klein and the ongoing tug-of-war to claim or disclaim her as an ecosocialist. At issue is her theoretical rigor and tendency to straddle the organic and traditional.

Ecosocialists can be quick to identify the dramatic irony in how the aims of environmental activism are consistently neutralized by activists themselves. Constrained by time and place, local activism is compelled by immediate circumstances to act on the self-evidential nature of particularist truths at the moment of apprehension. Capitalist culture is powerfully resilient for the very reason that it incorporates these contingent system threats into its own reproduction. If activism remains compartmentalized or reformist, it remains embedded in, and will not threaten the global power and inertia of, capital. If theory is neither precise nor rigorously explicit, it also evacuates revolutionary potential.

Klein positions herself within movements where people are already engaged in forms of making sense of the world while responding to immediate vital and existential needs. She is also, as are Foster and Smith, a "free-floating intellectual" maintaining methodological distance in order to infuse, widen, and contextualize conceptual abstraction and offer strategic direction. Her book, This Changes Everything, is important for popularizing the critique of our whole socio-economic system and the geological time scales of climate science. As I have argued elsewhere, whether intentional or not, she appeals to wide audiences in part because of theoretical and strategic ambiguity, or "wiggle room."

In Smith's writing, there is a potent sense of climate emergency and the desire to "keep the (strategic) eye on the ball." Read Smith's short book on Green Capitalism: The God that Failed, which could have been subtitled Ecosocialism: How to Be Loyal to Abstractions. It is a series of smartly written polemics, but with a sober theoretical foundation. Smith's irreverent, in-your-face fury is infused with the will to impose abstractions with different versions of scope and truth upon the "impeccably respectable premises" of conventional economics (and environmental activism).

Smith argues that Klein has "broken open the mainstream discourse, cataloguing the failures, contradictions, and corruptions of so-called green capitalism," and that she "nails climate change squarely on the door of capitalism with a withering indictment." But when Klein talks about capitalism, she does so in an equivocating sense, qualifying "capitalism" with adjectives such as "neoliberal," "extractivist," and so on, which also reconfigures strategic goals. Klein's "Blockadia is not a strategy," says Smith, and neither are her other "maddeningly confusing, contradictory, even incoherent" prescriptions. Klein is thus "an eloquent liberal-radical investigative journalist ... but she is no ecosocialist ... with no systematic analysis or critique of capitalism as a system whatsoever."

In Smith, you will not see pithy pronouncements like Klein's "to change the world we need everyone." You will read sharp, interrogative distinctions drawn between ostensibly "radical" economists and environmentalists and a forceful evocation of Marxist and political economic positions geared toward the contemporary ecological crisis. Warrior up on a rhetorical level!

Ruthlessly reveal mainstream environmentalist absurdities, deconstruct platitudes, call out euphemisms! Strike at the heart of false gods and zero in on the unequivocal message: shut the system down ... move beyond technological visions of "decoupling" and "dematerialization" ... depose the 1%, halt market and profit driven growth, bring on radical global industrial economic contraction that the ecological crisis demands.

'Fuck-you-to-power'

By contrast, John Bellamy Foster responds that while he may not agree with everything Klein says, "her influence and her radicalism, at the left end of the climate movement, are beyond question," that she "walks a fine line between social democracy and socialism/anarchism," and is "openly anti-capitalist." Foster argues that we don't want so much a movement that is "limited to advanced ecosocialists" but a "broader movement that can actually be effective today." Ecosocialists should "stay to the left of those like Klein and sharpen the critique within the movement but also support and work with them so as to not separate themselves from broader radicalism. ... If she does not always articulate this explicitly in terms of an ecosocialist strategy, it is because her strategy is rooted in the real movement as it exists today."

Foster is confident that he knows Klein as a comrade. He concludes the exchange with Smith with a personal story that is emblematic of the role of relationship and solidarity-building in action. Foster and Klein are together being chased by police in Johannesburg at a climate meeting in 2002. Outfitted in military gear, police throw percussion grenades, then kettle and point rifles in a stare-off with climate protesters. Foster claims Klein heroically "disregard[s] the danger." He remembers prophetically "thinking at that time that she was the kind of leader that the movement needed -- if she would once embrace the issue of capitalism versus the climate." As it turns out, Klein later penned a book with that name, Foster's uncanny prescience realized.

Foster's and Klein's shared "fuck-you-to-power" moment of anarchist rebelliousness is a powerful performative statement. The embodied moment concretely codifies political position vis-à-vis the state, capital, and ruling class as well as international, class, and gender solidarity. The moment is felt as something immediately trustworthy and an alternative to the certainties that abstract concepts promise but rarely deliver. The story illustrates that as much as conceptual clarity is important in moving goals forward, a sense of discernment about the metaphoric and affective dimension that initiates and builds associations and relationships requires cultivation.

To use Walter Benjamin's vocabulary, the moment's auratic quality imbues the relationship with profound symbolic density and meaning. A redemptive moment, it connects their present with history's revolutionary acts and cements their personal pact. In these moments, Foster seizes on the dialectical image of revolutionary negation and exits the argument with Smith without further explanation. Foster wants to enable Klein as a comrade rather than diffusing the power of the moment with theoretical dissimulation. Smith, in equally necessary moves, wants to embolden and equip comrades with revolutionary intellectual tools by asserting objective and logical necessity into vital and existential necessity.

Radicals are a tricky bunch. Anyone who has attempted to rouse significant numbers of Marxist intellectuals to action, or coalesce disparate groups of direct-action anarchists to a shared cause, knows it is like herding cats, and it is much easier to attract hoards of environmental nonprofit careerists, with their banal spectacle activism, with an ounce of foundation funding. This makes anti-(green)-capitalist and ecosocialist organizing that is directed to undermining the systemic logic of capitalism challenging. Yet, what inspires ecosocialist faith in their own relevance is the methodically reasoned account of a stable, identifiable conceptual and affective fault-line of the entire social whole that divides our present totality from the future, one that if we can name and permit ourselves to cross, and then recruit others, will open a new set of (non-catastrophically terminal) possibilities for the world.

Both Smith's and Foster's life work has done as much as anyone to point the world toward identifying and engaging with that fault-line, rather than pursuing much less ambitious or counterproductive goals. (The latter would include COP21-inspired, market-based adjustments such as carbon pricing, alone, as the holy grail of climate mitigation.) Climate scientists reach toward comprehensive and authoritative understanding of earth systems, which by now are sufficiently objectively definitive to be actionable. But if we believe that progress is even possible within the severe time limits that ecological crisis imposes, we also recognize that action at the level of wholesale change (for instance in terms of relations of production) is dormant in this deadly game of catch-up ... and the "procrastination penalty" to be paid for inaction is getting beyond reach.

Marx showed how history was materially transformed through a series of contradictions toward greater complexity, but held out the promise of one particular class representing the universal interests of humanity, if activated within objective conditions by political agency. The problem today is that cyclical and conjunctural crises that have propelled capitalism to hegemonic global reach and to the point of near absolute structural crisis have also eliminated resistance in the form of a consequential collective agent that would avert ecological collapse.

Harvey concludes the above episode referencing a kind of intellectual's sovereign exceptionalism, the notion of the intellectual's role being at once "inside" and at the same time "outside" of experience. The right to engage and impose interpretations follows from the need to fulfill obligations to comrades who are simultaneously political allies as well as obligations to the considered political saliency of the immediate and long-term objectives of a political act.

The former may lead toward a more arbitrary or instrumental relationship with immediate objects and objectives, the latter toward suspended intellectualism, abstract deconstruction of the immanent rationality of a particularism. Both are potential vehicles toward immobilization, or toward empowerment. In the meantime, our atmosphere is well over 490 parts per million CO2 equivalents. Welcome to our apocalyptic, or revolutionary, future.

Brad Hornick is a PhD candidate in Sociology at Simon Fraser University. He is active with System Change Not Climate Change – an Ecosocialist Network, and the Vancouver Ecosocialists. This article first published in New Politics.

Photo: Joe Brusky/flickr

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The Radical Handmaids' tale of reproductive justice began on Parliament Hill

26 July 2017 - 3:26pm
Radical Handmaids on Parliament Hill Today, on Parliament Hill, the Radical Handmaids gather in opposition to Motion 312, the anti-choice motion that seeks to redefine when human life begins.The science and art of defeating Motion 312The pro-choice movement scored a significant victory last week in the Parliamentary debate over anti-choice Motion 312. It could prove to be a watershed moment, one that could end the abortion debate.Without Apology: Writings on Abortion in CanadaAre you getting any closer? A pocket-sized primer on female sexualityShannon StettnerThe clitoris. Something so powerful and wonderful, yet largely misunderstood and ignored. Dive into female pleasure and sexuality with "Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality."Athabasca University PressAalya AhmadRadical HandmaidsJuly 27, 2017Reproductive activism in CanadaArts & CultureFeminism2016$29.95

Without Apology gathers the voices of activists, feminists, and scholars as well as abortion providers and clinic support staff alongside the stories of women whose experience with abortion is personal. With the particular aim of moving beyond the polarizing rhetoric that has characterized the issue of abortion and reproductive justice for so long, the collection offers engrossing and arresting accounts that will promote both reflection and discussion. The following excerpt comes from a chapter by the Radical Handmaids, whose protests in 2012 were inspired by Margaret Atwood's famous novel, The Handmaid's Tale. At a time when activists dressed as handmaids are bringing renewed attention to the fight for reproductive rights in the U.S. and around the world, the Radical Handmaids' reflections have a new resonance.

On April 25, 2012, a small grassroots group of (mostly) young women donned outfits inspired by Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, and went to Parliament Hill for a little "cosplay" to protest Motion 312 -- Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth's attempt to reopen the abortion debate by proposing that a Parliamentary committee be established to revisit the question of fetal personhood. We called ourselves the Radical Handmaids.

[…]

Our protest took place the day before the opening debate on Woodworth's Motion 312, on April 26, 2012. The motion was supposed to return to the House of Commons in June but was postponed until September 21, with the vote taking place on September 26. As expected, the motion did not pass, but 91 MPs -- four Liberals and the rest Conservatives -- voted in favour of reopening the abortion debate, including the minister responsible for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose (who, after the election of the Trudeau-led Liberals in October 2015, became the interim leader of the Conservative Party). Woodworth's initiative has not been, nor will it be, the only attempt to recriminalize abortion in Canada. In May 2012, another Conservative MP, Maurice Vellacott, tried to appropriate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to suggest, bizarrely, that abortion bullies the fetus in the womb.

It's tempting to regard these anti-choice proposals as little more than quaint flare-ups of an outmoded and marginal ideology. Eyebrows may be raised at the suggestion that campaigns against bullying should extend to fetuses, but no matter what's happening south of the border, in Canada, a perception endures that the War on Women is only a silly skirmish -- interesting to observe or debate but unlikely to have any real consequences for women's lives, even with a Conservative federal government in power. Therefore, the Radical Handmaids were met with shrugs and why-bothers from some quarters. Even Margaret Atwood herself said in 2011, prior to the Conservatives' return as a majority, that a debate on abortion ought to be had, albeit located within its proper context:

Harper says he will not allow a debate on abortion. But he should allow it. All aspects of this troublesome question -- and it has been troublesome throughout history, as there are no lovely answers -- should be thoroughly discussed. There should be clarity on Harper's attitude to women and children and their well-being. Let them die of malnutrition? Supply adequate diet, public support if there's no income, protection from rape and enforced prostitution, improved adoption procedures, education, better hospitals and access to drugs, new orphanages, enforced chastity, unwillingly pregnant women locked up in mega-jails, payment per baby if baby-making is service provided to the state, pace Napoleon? What's it to be? Spit it out. Let us know what may be coming soon to a neighbourhood near us.

Of course -- and Atwood's intention was undoubtedly to highlight this dismal reality -- those whose bodies and lives are particularly vulnerable to such debates, fertile women, are condemned to watch from the sidelines. As Atwood makes clear, the problem with the view that such a debate is harmless is its dislocation from the context in which it needs to be firmly situated -- the Harper Conservatives' relentless erosion of hard-won feminist gains since their first rise to power as a minority in 2006. Looked at in this way, the attacks on reproductive rights, however silly, become not marginal but central to the steady pattern of an anti-feminist backlash. Too often, abortion rights are isolated from their intrinsic connection with the other rights that feminists have fought for. And yet those rights -- including access to education, affordable child care, freedom from stifling poverty, and the ability to leave abusive partners, to name only a few -- are integral to women's ability to choose whether, when, and with whom they will have children.

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The handmaid's Taleradical handmaidswomen's rightsabortion rightsreproductive rightsbook excerpt

Jagmeet Singh brings flair and audacity to NDP leadership race

26 July 2017 - 9:03am
July 26, 2017Jagmeet Singh is the self-styled candidate of connections and emotionJagmeet Singh entered the NDP leadership race months after the four other candidates, yet there is polling and anecdotal evidence that he already has higher, and more positive, name recognition.

Jagmeet Singh is the self-styled candidate of connections and emotion

26 July 2017 - 8:56am
Karl Nerenberg

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Jagmeet Singh certainly knows how to attract attention to himself.

He entered the NDP leadership race late, months after the four other candidates, yet there is polling and anecdotal evidence that he already has higher, and more positive, name recognition than any of the others. One gesture, in particular, gained Singh a pile of favourable coverage: a one-minute video in which he explains what motivated him to learn French early in life.

In that video, he compares his own Punjabi people to the Québecois, speaking in fluent French. He tells how listening to singer Roch Voisine, who was especially popular in the late 1980s and 1990s, helped him learn the French language. He does this little riff while tying his turban; and winks at the too-cool-for-school folks in his audience by admitting that Voisine's music might sound "kétaine" (corny) today.

This writer has spoken to people who have scant interest in the NDP or its leadership race, but who know all about the video. They are impressed with Singh's flair and audacity, and the way he turns what might be concerns in Quebec about his turban on their head, no pun intended.

Elected in difficult territory for the NDP

So far, Jagmeet Singh seems to have led a charmed political life, although he has not chosen an easy route. He made his first try for political office, as a federal NDP candidate, in 2011, in a riding in the suburban Toronto Peel region, not usually fertile ground for New Democrats.

Like other New Democratic politicians, Singh found his way to politics through activism. As a law student he worked for refugees and immigrants, and did know-your-rights seminars. Once he began practicing law, he continued the same work. In 2011, youth groups, mostly in the Sikh community, convinced him to run federally, in an area where, as he puts it "the party had never won any election at any level of government …" He came agonizingly close, losing to the Conservative candidate by only 539 votes.

A few months later, Singh ran for the NDP in the same riding provincially and won. He quickly became a prominent and active member of the legislature. Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath named him justice critic and, later, her deputy leader. He was having a successful provincial career, so why run for the federal leadership?

His answer is based, without false modesty, on an evaluation of his own talents and appeal and, in particular, his communication ability. As an acknowledged rising star in the party, Singh has travelled around the country on behalf of the NDP. During those travels, he says, he has met many people who seem to share NDP values -- on inequality and social justice, for instance -- but do not vote NDP.

"I realized," he says, "that I am in a unique position. I am a bit disruptive. I represent a suburban riding, but I am known for being an urban person who cycles in a suit. I have stood up on discrimination and policing. Stood up to insurance companies, stood up for precarious workers. I did a lot of bold work, and I had built a great relationship with a whole lot of different communities. I won an award from the coalition of Black trade unionists for my work on carding. I have a great relationship with many communities, from the Muslim to the Black to urban hipsters. I think I am in a unique position to appeal to people who share our values, but don't necessarily feel at home in our party."

Four policy pillars

On the policy front, other candidates have accused Singh of being vague, but he is quickly putting meat on the bones of his proposals. The four pillars of his campaign, he says, are: inequality, electoral reform, Indigenous reconciliation and climate change. When this writer pushed Singh to choose one of those as his highest priority, he answered, "It would have to be inequality."

To address growing inequality in Canada, the young Ontario politician says he has an "income security and tax fairness agenda." On income security, he proposes a targeted guaranteed annual incomes for seniors, for low-wage working Canadians and for Canadians living with disabilities. These targeted income guarantees, Singh explains, "would immediately lift those three groups out of poverty." He would pay for these measures with tax reforms, which would "ask those who can afford it" to pay more -- or, as he puts it, "to invest a bit more in our beautiful country."

Jagmeet Singh argues that his idea is better than Guy Caron's universal guaranteed annual income because it would be means tested, focused exclusively on "those who need it the most." In addition, he adds, his plan is fully costed.

"Guy Caron's idea is great and noble," Singh says, "but it is not clear to me if it is fully costed and practically achievable. As well, it is not clear if it is targeted toward those most in need."

Of all the candidates, Singh portrays himself as being the most able to counter the ineffable Trudeau factor. In addition to being youthful and a global celebrity, Trudeau has wrapped himself in the banner of boosting the middle class through economic growth. Does Singh have a message for that middle-class cohort, however one might define it, which is primarily concerned with the state of and prospects for the economy?

The candidate counters, first, by pooh-poohing the obsessive political preoccupation with the "amorphous middle class."

He then brings up the disruptive impact of technology. Singh makes the point, at first, that he is excited about technological disruption; but then corrects himself to explain that he is, in fact,  "concerned." He raises the example of driverless vehicles, which, he says, will have a big impact on the transportation sector, and offers that "as a country we need to make the investment in training so that our workforce can transition into good jobs."

"That is something I will be looking at," he says, and then, on a personal note, adds: "I have a lot of friends in the tech and creative sectors and I will seek their advice as to how we can train people to transition to the new, good jobs that will be created by technological change."

Split in the party over a pipeline and reflections on 2015

Like most other NDP leadership candidates, Singh is unequivocally opposed to Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline proposal, a project Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley enthusiastically supports (as does Prime Minister Trudeau).

When asked about his position, Singh's first response is to praise Notley's great work on climate change. He then adds that he took his time before declaring himself on the Kinder Morgan project because he is respectful of the Alberta government's need to protect existing jobs and create new jobs in its province.

"It wasn't an easy decision for me," he says, "but in the end I had a number of key concerns, including the need for any project to have the full consent of Indigenous people. I also believe an energy project has to be in line with our climate change targets, and should create sufficient benefits or local jobs. Those were some of the factors I took into account in deciding to oppose Trans Mountain."

As to the fact that the proposed pipeline has created a major rift in his party, Singh argues that it is just one issue.

"There are so many issues on which we align, " he argues. "At a time when, with the dropping price of oil, Conservatives were talking about cutting health and education, Rachel Notley implemented plans to freeze tuition fees, and put in policies around workers' rights and minimum wage. Plus, Notley's climate change plan is one of the strongest in the entire country."

Finally, what does Singh believe went wrong in the last federal campaign, in 2015?

"We actually had some great ideas," he replies. "Pharmacare, daycare. But we did not connect with people emotionally. People, in their heart, did not feel that the New Democrats were the true progressive party. They thought the Liberals were. It may not have been rational or based on facts; it was about connection and emotion. That is what I will be working on. Developing connections."

So far, for a politician who has zoomed quickly into the national spotlight, Jagmeet Singh has done remarkably well at the job of connecting.

This article is part of a series profiling candidates in the 2017 NDP leadership race. Read the full series here.

Photo: ideas_dept/flickr

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation. Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

44,000 permanent residency applications from live-in caregivers have yet to be processed

25 July 2017 - 9:49am
July 25, 2017Advocates criticize Liberal government for keeping caregivers apart from their familiesAdvocates point out that the federal government's recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program were skewed to the interests of employers.

Changing from fossil fuels to emission-free fuels is not enough to save us.

23 July 2017 - 8:29pm
July 23, 2017Divestment is shifting the geopolitics of fossil fuelsFinancing a country mainly through one industry has several problems, including economic instability. Divestors challenge the petrostate's financial and political power.

B.C. unions are hopeful for increases to minimum wage and improved workers' rights with Horgan's government

21 July 2017 - 8:46am
July 21, 2017Unions say minimum wage and workers' rights should be NDP Premier Horgan's priorityBritish Columbia's unions are hopeful for increases to minimum wage and improved workers' rights with John Horgan's NDP-Green coalition government.

Unions say minimum wage and workers' rights should be NDP Premier Horgan's priority

20 July 2017 - 3:01pm
Meagan Gillmore

British Columbia's unions are hopeful for increases to minimum wage and improved workers' rights with John Horgan's NDP-Green coalition government.

Horgan and his cabinet were sworn in on Tuesday.

Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said she hopes this new government will raise minimum wage to $15 an hour by sometime in 2019, a timeline consistent with announced changes in Alberta and Ontario. Alberta's minimum wage is set to increase to $15 an hour in October 2018. Ontario is considering legislation that would see that same wage become effective in January 2019.

The NDP and the Green Party both support the increased minimum wage, she said.

Lanzinger called the increases a way to "immediately" improve the lives of the working poor. The province also needs to follow suit with nearby jurisdictions like Alberta and Seattle, where the minimum wage is already $15. It isn't fair that British Columbians have a lower minimum wage when their cost of living is so high, she said.

But it can't stop there, she said. Eventually, the minimum wage should be the same as the living wage. How that happens is a "completely appropriate and a good discussion to have," Lanzinger said. She said the federation is looking forward to working with the Fair Wages Commission, which will study the issue.

The provincial Green party had named the establishment of such a commission as an election promise.

But Lanzinger also wants the government to tackle concerns that are "less on the public radar," like changing the labour code to make it easier for people to join unions, calling unions the "key to reducing the gap between rich and poor."

Lanzinger would also like to see stiffer penalties, including criminal charges and jail time, for employers whose negligence causes the injury or death of workers. Drivers face prison time when their negligence causes injury or death, she said. It should be the same for employers.

The new cabinet includes many ministers with past labour experience. Judy Darcy, former president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), was named to the newly created ministry of mental health and addictions. George Heyman, former president of the B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union (BCGEU) was named minister of environment and climate change strategy. Minister of Citizens' Services Jinny Sims was previously president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF).

While Lanzinger says the "deep knowledge" about labour these ministers will bring is helpful, it's not necessary for advancing the rights of workers. It's more important that government officials recognize the importance of unions, she said.

A former teacher, Lanzinger said she was pleased to see Rob Fleming appointed minister of education. Fleming was previously the education critic.

Glen Hansman, president of the BCTF, echoed Lanzinger's approval. Fleming "doesn't need to come up to speed" about the issues facing the education system, said Hansman.

The first priority needs to be making sure the B.C. government implements last November's Supreme Court of Canada decision. The country's highest court ruled against a 2002 law that removed language about class size and composition from teachers' collective bargaining agreements, and forbade teachers from negotiating about those issues in the future. As part of the settlement, the government was supposed to provide money for districts to hire more teachers.

But that hasn't happened, said Hansman. Many districts were "scrambling" in June when they learned they weren't going to receive the money they had expected, he said. This includes large districts, like the Vancouver District School Board, that Hansman said didn't find out about what they weren't getting until the second-last week of school. This has thrown school organization into "disarray."

Districts need that staff immediately, said Lanzinger.

"It is not optional," she said. "It must be implemented and it must be implemented quickly. Frankly, that's the best thing for kids in the province. And it's also the law."

Hansman also said he hopes the new government will have a less "adversarial" relationship with unions. The Liberals were known to "use the legislative hammer" to get things done, he said, calling their relationship with labour a "dark cloud" hanging over the province. He said he hopes this changes -- especially as teachers' collective bargaining agreement expires in 2019. Preparations for negotiations will begin soon, he said.

Hansman wasn't the only union leader calling on the government to take action on education.

Paul Faoro, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) BC said in a release he is looking forward to working with Minister Fleming to "restore" the system after 16 years of what Faoro called "cuts and neglect." 

Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU, said in a release the union is hopeful to work with a new government "forged in a spirit of cooperation." The release singles out the need for the ministry of education to provide better services in time for the next school year.

The government also needs to re-evaluate long-term educational goals, said Hansman. The government has spent years changing the curriculum. The federation supports many of those changes, he said. But other changes, like those to assessment and reporting, has caused a lot of stress for teachers.

Teachers are "faced with a lot of changes all at once without the resources in place in schools to make them successful," he said. "It's a lot of scrambling."

The last government seemed to make decisions at "random," he said. It spent millions of dollars implementing electronic databases for student information, without always explaining the purpose for this, how information will be used or how long it will be stored, or giving teachers adequate training about privacy.

Hansman said he hopes to meet with Education Minister Fleming soon to discuss priorities.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: BC Gov Photos/flickr

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You don't stock up on fighter jets and warships if your focus is peacekeeping

20 July 2017 - 9:27am
July 20, 2017Trudeau dodges 'poodle' label after caving in to Trump on arms build-upThe Trudeau government's pledge to hike military spending by a whopping 70 per cent over 10 years succeeded in winning praise from Trump while going largely unnoticed by Canadians.

WATCH: How Trump's travel ban is affecting Muslims living in Canada

19 July 2017 - 3:31pm
YouTubeMelek OrtabasiAnti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchUS PoliticsJuly 19, 2017Best-of-the-net

The recent travel ban by the president of United States has far-reaching effects on the Muslim community living outside the six banned nations. The Ban is a short documentary that sheds light on how Muslim individuals are affected by the travel ban living in Canada, specially in Vancouver.

Many have deemed this travel ban as xenophobic as it encourages discrimination against Muslims and promotes Islamophobia. The Ban, facilitated by Dr. Melek Ortabasi (SFU), interviews individuals who were affected by the ban. This video documentary gives them the platform for their stories to be heard. The Ban also includes prominent figures such as Vancouver-based author and social activist Harsha Walia and Joy Kogawa, Canadian author and member of the Order of Canada. Joy underwent extreme racial discrimination during the Japanese internment in 1941.

The purpose of this video is to raise awareness and promote inclusivity of Muslim community in Canada. The take-away message from this video is, as Joy Kogawa states near the end of video, "don't let this happen again," drawing a sharp comparison to the pitfalls of our modern history. This documentary calls for public attention to the ban and helps demonstrate how such a ruling negatively affects innocent Muslims living across the world.

travel banislamophobiaMuslim communitytrump administration The Ban

Billions wasted and jobs lost as Ontario's Green Energy Strategy continues to fail

19 July 2017 - 3:12pm
Nora Loreto

On December 2, 2010, the Ontario government promised that a new wind turbine plant in Tillsonburg would deliver 900 jobs to the southwestern Ontario region. The government release said that the plant was part of a $7-billion investment made by Samsung to invest in clean energy. Siemens would build the plant.

Half a year later, and right before the 2011 election, then premier Dalton McGuinty toured the plant. In a release announcing his visit, the government said, "The Tillsonburg plant is one of four under Ontario's revised, enhanced agreement with Samsung that will provide 16,000 clean energy jobs across Ontario."

Part of the Samsung deal was that Siemens would supply 140 wind turbines for $850 million. That contract was signed in 2014.

Six years later, Siemens has announced that the plant is closing, and 340 workers are out of a job. More than 200 of those workers immediately received a termination notice. The remaining workers will be phased out between now and 2018.

The region already faces a combined loss of 1,000 jobs at the CAMI autoparts plant in Ingersoll and Maple Leaf Foods in Thamesford.

This is just another thread in a twisting saga of Liberal mismanagement and so-called clean energy promises.

Last September, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault announced that the government would cancel several long-term energy contracts signed in 2013, to try and reduce cost to individual energy bills. This would save up to $3.8 billion, he argued.

The 20-year to 40-year contracts were intended to sweeten the deal for private companies who would participate in boosting Ontario's new green energy capacity. Rather than publicly build these facilities, private companies were promised stable profits, but would be expected to assume extra costs. The Globe and Mail explained it like this: "The private sector would be responsible for cost overruns and other construction problems in exchange for 20-year contracts from the province. The contracts essentially guaranteed that the companies would receive a certain amount of revenue -- no matter how much electricity their plants produced (though they would be paid more if the province used their electricity)."

The Samsung consortium deal, called "lucrative" in the same Globe and Mail article by the reporters, was sole-sourced. These 20-year contracts, handed out under the Ontario Green Energy Act, ended up pushing the extra costs onto customers. By 2014, Ontario's capacity to generate electricity was much higher than average usage. As demand fell, in part due to reductions within the manufacturing industry and household conservation mechanisms, Ontario was still paying for this over-supply, thanks to these 20-year contracts.

Part of the Green Energy Act removed most projects built under the act from being subject to processes defined by the Planning Act and, ironically, the Environmental Assessment Act.

By 2016, almost 60 per cent of Ontario's energy came from nuclear. Wind power made up 5.1 per cent.

Samsung and Siemens announced the partnership in 2010, and named Siemens as the company to make the wind turbines. The announcement of this partnership boasted that Ontario's feed-in tariff program pays "the highest rates for green energy producers in North America." Indeed, for some of the contracts, promised rates were as high as 40 times more what one would pay for fair-market value.

Siemans and Samsung have seemingly benefitted handsomely from these contracts, even though the promise of more renewable energy in wind, more jobs and fewer costs have all turned out to be lies.

In 2012, Brad Duguid congratulated Siemans for having existed in Ontario for 100 years: "Siemens is taking advantage of Ontario's modernized business climate to grow. Growth of anchor companies, such as Siemens, creates new opportunities for us to work together, and more importantly, new jobs for Ontarians."

Siemens employs 4,800 people in Canada and made $3.0 billion in sales in 2015. In 2016, Mediacorp named it one of Canada's top 100 employers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Samsung Renewable Energy has been a donor to all three political parties, particularly during 2014, the year of the last Ontario election.

Between 2014 and 2016, Samsung Renewable Energy Inc. donated almost $86,000 to the Liberals, the NDP and the Conservatives combined. They donated almost $17,000 to the NDP, $11,000 to the Progressive Conservatives and almost $58,000 to the Liberals, the party that gave them the sole-sourced contract in the first place.

This disaster has provided cover for the Ontario Liberals to justify privatizing Ontario hydro.

On August 9, 2016, Samsung Renewable Energy's one-third stake in the wind power plant also in south-western Ontario, in Goderich was acquired by Axium Infrastructure, Alberta Teachers' Retirement Fund Board and Manulife Financial Corporation.

Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/flickr

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Trudeau dodges 'poodle' label after caving in to Trump on arms build-up

19 July 2017 - 2:39pm
Civil Liberties WatchPolitics in Canada

Once a poodle, always a poodle, as Tony Blair learned.

Even after The Economist magazine ran an article headlined "Tony Blair is not a poodle," the British prime minister was unable to shake the slur of being George W. Bush's loyal lapdog for supporting his invasion of Iraq.

So there must be a huge sigh of relief inside our own Prime Minister's Office these days, now that fears Justin Trudeau could end up similarly branded a poodle -- with the leash held by the current U.S. president -- seem to have passed.

Certainly, the Trudeau government's announcement last month that it would dramatically increase Canada's military spending -- as Donald Trump has loudly demanded -- was risky, given the distaste Canadians have for big military budgets and for prime ministers who cave in to U.S. presidents.

But the Trudeau government's pledge to hike military spending by a whopping 70 per cent over 10 years succeeded in winning praise from Trump while going largely unnoticed by Canadians. Sweet.

That might be because Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had just delivered a theatrical speech to Parliament that proclaimed Canada's determination to find its own way in the world, now that Trump had decided to "shrug off the burden of world leadership."

It sounded feisty and bold, with a touch of swagger, a willingness to defy the Man. No poodle here, she trumpeted.

If Freeland's defiant tone irked Trump as he contemplated his pre-dawn tweets the next morning, he was soothed hours later by the welcome news that Canada would increase its military spending by $30 billion, with 88 new fighter jets and 15 new warships! Wow! For the unmilitaristic Canadians to spend like that on their military is no nothing-burger!

Meanwhile, all was quiet on the Canadian front where the media, still high on Freeland's soaring oratory, was awash in stories about the Trudeau government's determination to "set its own course" and "step up to lead on the world stage." Its keenness to please Donald Trump mostly got lost in the hoopla.

The military spending hike, although introduced without much controversy, is in fact a major development with devastating consequences, imposing a massive new $30-billion burden on Canadian taxpayers over the next decade and relegating pressing social needs to the back burner.

It's also a significant departure for Trudeau, who made no campaign promise to increase Canada's military spending which, at $19 billion a year, is already the 16th largest in the world.

On the contrary, Trudeau campaigned on reviving Canada's role in UN peacekeeping. But you don't stock up on fighter jets and warships if your focus is peacekeeping.

This military spending boost is dramatically bigger than what Stephen Harper had planned. Harper was continually stymied in his controversial plan to spend $9 billion on 65 fighter jets. Yet now the Trudeau team, which likes to present a feminist face to the world, has blithely announced its intention to more than double that, spending $19 billion on 88 jets. 

All this will put Canada fully back in war-fighting mode, so that we can fit seamlessly into whatever military ventures Trump might want to entangle us in. 

And make no mistake about it, that's what we're gearing up for. The new military plan, titled "Strong, Secure, Engaged," makes 23 references to Canada's "interoperability" with U.S. and allied military forces, notes Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute, the only Canadian think-tank dealing with military issues that is not heavily funded by the arms industry.

Mason, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN on disarmament, says that, despite talk about Trump's isolationism, the Trump administration is not retreating from foreign military engagements; on the contrary, it is expanding its troops in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Trump has railed against America's allies for not spending enough on their militaries, leaving the U.S. bearing too much of the financial burden of defending the "free world."

Of course, a more sensible solution would be for Washington to cut its gargantuan $600-billion "defence" budget, which accounts for 36 per cent of global military spending -- almost three times more than China, the next biggest spender, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Certainly, the extra $30 billion in military spending Trudeau has just promised seems wildly out of whack with the priorities of Canadians.

My guess is that, given a choice between spending that money on fighter jets or on social programs, most Canadians would favour social programs.

But then, they're not holding the leash.

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author. Her book Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths was among the books selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the "25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years." A version of this column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

military spendingdefence spendingTrudeau governmentChrystia FreelandCanada-U.S. relationsDonald TrumpCanadian militarismLinda McQuaigJuly 19, 2017Breaking tradition championed by his father, Trudeau boycotts key UN disarmament initiativeWhile the Trudeau team is very worked up about chemical weapons, they seem strangely unconcerned about nuclear ones, snubbing important new UN negotiations aimed at nuclear disarmament.Liberals' massive increase in defence spending is a budgetary coupWith its giant boost to military spending, the Trudeau government is gearing up for more Western adventurism, using NATO to prop up a failing finance capitalism by military threats.As NATO war-mongering against Russia intensifies, Canada faces a difficult choiceNATO is requesting that Canada join a 4,000-troop contingent that would form a permanent NATO presence in countries bordering Russia. Will Prime Minister Trudeau make the courageous choice and say no?

MP Niki Ashton is the candidate of youth and of the left

19 July 2017 - 9:11am
July 19, 2017Niki Ashton is a veteran MP -- and also the youth candidateNDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton describes herself as an "intersectional feminist" and as the candidate of youth and of the left.

Niki Ashton is a veteran MP -- and also the youth candidate

19 July 2017 - 9:05am
Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation. Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

For Niki Ashton, politics is, in many respects, her family's business. Her father, Steve Ashton, has been an NDP member of the Manitoba Legislature since 1981, and held numerous senior cabinet positions in the Doer and Selinger NDP governments.

"My dad got elected off the picket line in 1981," she recounts, but hastens to add that her mom, Hariklia Dimitrakopoulou, is also a political person: "She was a feminist activist involved with the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, and did school board politics, as well."

Ashton comes from northern Manitoba, which for a long time has been good territory for the NDP and its predecessor party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF).  In the first postwar election, in 1945, Roland Moore won it for the CCF. Later, in 1979, Rod Murphy won and then held the riding through four elections for the NDP. In the 2000s, Bev Desjarlais was the NDP MP, and it was her opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage that prodded Niki Ashton into running for federal office at the age of 23.

"We tried to get her to change her position but that didn't work," Aston relates. "She was not only taking a stand against party policy, but was falsely portraying this part of the country, with its large First Nations and blue-collar population, as being against human and LGBTQ rights."

Party activists recruited Ashton to run for the nomination against Desjarlais in 2006. Ashton carried the NDP colours in that election, but Desjarlais ran as an independent, and the Liberals won the seat. Ashton tried again in 2008, and has held the seat ever since.

An intersectional feminist

Entering politics not merely to get into the family business, but to show that traditional working-class issues can be consistent with advocacy for equity-seeking groups, is typical of Ashton. She describes herself as an "intersectional feminist," and does not worry what the voters of Thompson, The Pas, Cross Lake or Flin Flon might think.

In fact, Ashton tries to portray herself, quite deliberately, as the candidate of youth and of the left.

"What we need," she says, "are bold progressive policies that tackle the challenges of our time, which are growing inequality and catastrophic climate change." And she then adds: "Incremental change is not going to cut it. We will move forward only through bold, progressive politics."

When it comes to policy, her ideas are not necessarily as radical as her rhetoric. For instance, she proposes a jobs program to help the millennial generation get away from the precarious work trap. Ashton has devoted considerable energy to the rise of the gig economy and what to do about it, but her jobs plan offers few tangible details.

Another of her policy proposals that might scare more pragmatic and moderate NDPers, is an inheritance tax. In principle, taxing inherited wealth should be a no-brainer for a social democratic party. However, whenever the NDP has flirted with the idea it has run up against the conundrum that imposing a levy on inheritances would entail taxing family homes when they are passed from one generation to the next.

Even a whisper of such a notion, especially in many big city ridings where homes have inflated cash values, can cost New Democratic MPs their seats. Voters do not like the idea of being forced to sell the family homes in order to pay tax, and do not appreciate the idea of being taxed on the only significant asset many families have.

Ashton also talks about ending privatizations, and goes further when she says she wants to revive the neglected instrument of public ownership. Here, again, the rhetoric might be bolder than the actual policy prescriptions.

Ashton does not propose anything like what Clement Attlee's British Labour Party did when it took power immediately following the Second World War. They nationalized the steel, coal, electricity, gas, civil aviation and rail transport industries -- a fifth of the British economy.

Niki Ashton proposes nationalizing the tiny, seasonal port of Churchill on Hudson's Bay, mandating Canada Post to set up a postal bank of the sort they have in many countries (a suggestion the postal unions have been pushing), establishing a Crown corporation to direct federal investment in the green transition, and studying the idea of starting a public company to produce and distribute generic drugs, "in the context of pharmacare."

They are all creative and probably quite useful ideas, but taken together they do not constitute a radical socialist program. Perhaps Ashton's boldest idea is free tuition for post-secondary education. Of course, there many studies that show that universal, and not means-tested, free tuition would mostly benefit more affluent families. That does not deter Ashton, any more than it did Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. It certainly helped the latter two motivate the youth vote.

Inspired by Indigenous courage

The still-young northern Manitoba MP emphasizes that much of her inspiration comes from witnessing the courage and resilience of Indigenous peoples. Her riding has a great many First Nations communities, and she has invested considerable time and effort working with Indigenous Canadians. Today, Ashton argues that the current Liberal government is hypocritical in its rhetorical commitment to justice for Indigenous groups.  She points to pipelines and other resource projects, where the Trudeau government, she argues, has too often put corporate interests, and the pursuit of trade at any cost, against the wishes and needs of Indigenous communities.

"I represent many communities that have third-world living conditions," she says, "and where people are doing incredible work to pull together what resources they have to make a difference in these communities, and the federal government is nowhere to be found."

As for an overall strategy for the next election, Ashton starts out by arguing that in 2015 the NDP allowed the Liberals to "out-left" them. New Democrats, famously, promised to balance the federal budget, while Trudeau's Liberals pledged that, if elected, they would make big investments in infrastructure, the deficit be damned.

But there was more to the Liberals' success than the deficit issue alone, Ashton says.

"Trudeau did not get elected just because he has nice hair and nice clothes," she points out. "He actually put forward a progressive vision that inspired many Canadians, including a great many young Canadians."

Next time, she says, New Democrats must take note, and come up with a real progressive vision that can inspire Canadians, especially, she adds, as we have watched Trudeau break so many of his promises. On that front, Ashton points to pipelines, electoral reform and, especially, the Liberal promise to grow the middle class, which, she says, is actually shrinking rather than growing.

For Ashton, the most important political fact of life now is this: when the next election rolls around, the biggest voting bloc will be the millennial generation, at 37 per cent, not baby boomers, at 32 per cent. Millennials, she says, are not lured by the idea that unfettered markets and private initiative can solve everything. They are looking for a politics in Canada that echoes that of Bernie Sanders in the U.S., Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France.

Those three men all appealed to young voters, without being young themselves. In Canada, Ashton hopes a candidate who is herself part of the millennial generation can become the authentic progressive voice.

This article is part of a series profiling candidates in the 2017 NDP leadership race. Read the full series here.

Photo: Matt Jiggins/flickr

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation. Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

Street Farm serves up food for the soul

18 July 2017 - 2:26pm
Arts & CultureEnvironmentFood & Health

The lazy days of summer bring on the urge to lounge in the warm shade of a tree, and, perhaps if you're lucky enough, to read alongside the trickle of a creek or the lapping waters of a lake.

Writing this column has prompted me to think about agriculture, food and rural-urban connections. So it makes sense that my summer reading is on these issues as well.

This column has also made me wonder  about the "food movement," and just how true and meaningful it is. In the course of researching agriculture issues, I have come across new movements, new ways of growing food, and social and community connections made through engaging in agriculture. Writing this column also had me searching for groups that can coalesce around agriculture and food -- and made me wonder if the growing interest in organic food, locally grown food, and even celebrity chefs is really enough to ensure that we maintain a solid agriculture base in this country. Will all this new interest in "clean" food actually empower the Canadian family farm?

So this summer, I am taking some time to read -- feed my soul, if you like.

And one of the books that has been on my list, and well worth spending some time with is Michael Ableman's Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope in the Urban Frontier.

This book is definitely an out-of-the-box way of thinking about agriculture and farming -- who gains, who loses, and how growing food can grow urban community.

Street Farm is the story of Sole Food Street Farms and how the creation of an urban farm eventually developed into a network of four farms located in Vancouver's East Hastings district, the poorest postal code in Canada. It is the story of how the idea of an urban farm created a link between empty parking lots and vacant land, food, poverty, addiction, and urban squalor. It is an inspirational story about how people who have been written off by many in our society can contribute to their lives -- and even help mend their lives -- through food production.

Ableman tells of the brainstorming that initiated the idea: how a few people set about using vacant urban parking lots to generate a farm that would eventually supply local restaurateurs with high-quality, organic products, and in so doing, bring meaning to people whose lives had become disconnected and dysfunctional.

Street Farm is about the ups and downs of trying to grow quality food and build community in a harsh urban environment. The story is nothing short of incredible and testament to what is possible when you think outside the box.

Ableman analyzes the challenges of farming, links community to food production, questions land ownership, and identifies food production as a strategy that can mitigate addiction, poverty and mental illness. He shows that when people are valued, encouraged, and given purpose, they can be empowered to improve their lives.

Along the way, we are given insight into agriculture and food issues, connections to a local market, the celebrity chef trend, and more.

For example, notes Ableman:

"[I] sometimes wonder what role high-priced fine-dining restaurants play in our society. I have seen how well-known chefs and the influential clientele they serve can elevate the public dialogue about food and farming. I have seen the attention that the media give to those whose artistry turns good ingredients into high art. But I also wonder whether these temples of food worship are just there to keep rich folks happy or whether they can actually be a force for change in the world."

Lots to think about in that paragraph. And there are other gems as well:

"I look forward to the day when people expand their thinking beyond gluten-free, vegan, omnivore, locavore, pescatarian, and vegetarian and inquire instead -- or additionally -- about whether the farmer and family are well paid, the land has been well cared for, and the cook was in a happy mood when he or she prepared the meal."

Throughout the book, Ableman shares with us the tragic yet heart-warming stories of many of the people who have been employed with Sole Food Farmers, conveying the challenges, the successes, and, yes, the disappointments:

"Jordan and his father have taught me so much -- about generosity, about taking care of one another, about forgiveness. Their lives are proof that, just like the plants that we grow, humans are resilient, and will thrive when given proper nourishment, a sense of community, some respect, and something meaningful to do."

Ableman urges us to move beyond our immediate wants and needs when it come to thinking about food and farming.

He challenges us to think through our role in food production, observing that, "[t]he responsibility of our food and how it comes to us, the responsibility of how we use and steward our land, should not belong solely to the 2 per cent of the population we call farmers. That responsibility belongs to all of us."

The story of Sole Food Street Farms is moving. It's one that we need to learn from and re-tell…often.

Happy summer reading!

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: Visit.org/flickr

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Lockout begins at OLG Woodbine Racetrack

17 July 2017 - 1:15pm
Meagan Gillmore

Slot machine workers at the OLG Woodbine Racetrack have been locked out. 

The lockout began on July 14, after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union representing the workers, failed to agree on a new contract. Workers began picketing outside the site on the morning of July 14.

Slot machines at the province's largest gaming floor remain open. Rui Brum, spokesperson for OLG, said mainly non-unionized workers and managers are working the slot machines. The electronic poker room is closed and the onsite courtesy shuffle isn't running. Coat check hours are reduced.

The union and OLG reached a tentative agreement on July 5, but workers rejected it. According to a statement from the union, the OLG sent the workers a letter saying it would lock them out by July 14, the legal deadline for a strike or lockout. PSAC sent OLG a revised offer on July 12. OLG rejected the offer.

The offer doesn't address workers' concerns about scheduling, said Sharon DeSousa, PSAC's executive vice-president for Ontario. Most of the more than 400 slot workers are part time. Their schedules are unpredictable, she said. Many don't receive more than two days' notice of their schedule. This makes having a work-life balance nearly impossible, and can make it difficult to plan for family responsibilities, like caring for parents or children.

Workers have to take shifts when they're called in, said DeSousa, and that "really puts (them) in a precarious position." The slots are open 24 hours a day, so shifts can be at all hours of the day or night.

Some workers are classified as part time, even though they work full-time hours. Many have been working like this for more than 10 years, said DeSousa. "They've just had enough," she said.

Part-time workers don't receive the same benefits as full-time workers. Full-time workers have six sick days, she said.

Brum told rabble.ca in an email that part-time workers are entitled to three lieu days. They can cash out these days to use if they're sick. They also have 10 unpaid emergency days. He said part-time employees are paid the same as their full-time colleagues, and are eligible for health, dental and life insurance, depending on the hours they work.

He said the OLG's offer included ways for employees to have more input into their schedules.

Brum said wage increases were the main concern of the contract dispute. In a statement, OLG said it offered "fair and reasonable" wage and lump sum offers. The corporation also said it is willing to go to arbitration to reach an agreement.

This dispute is the latest to happen at OLG facilities. Slot machine workers at OLG-operated Rideau Carleton racetrack in Ottawa were on strike from December 2015 to May 2016. PSAC also represents these workers.

Security guards at Woodbine were on strike last summer. Those workers are represented by SEIU Local 2.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: mpancha/flickr

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